Starting this September, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare will officially begin the nationwide telemedicine pilot following a three-month guided pilot period

The service is currently being offered to the following patients:

  • those with chronic diseases who have done their first in-person visits; 

  • paediatric patients seeking follow-ups (only during holidays and at night); 

  • people living in islands and other remote areas; 

  • disabled persons; 

  • senior citizens over the age of 65; and 

  • people dealing with infectious diseases

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Telemedicine is once again not allowed in South Korea after the country temporarily allowed its conduct during the pandemic as part of its emergency response. In June, the government downgraded its public health alert, which meant the end of the temporary conduct of telemedicine after three years. 

While legislators are still working to get telemedicine institutionalised, the MOHW launched the pilot programme to continue providing citizens an alternative option to access care. It was earlier reported that about 14 million Koreans received telemedicine care between February 2020 to January 2023.  

Over the past three months, a pre-pilot launch was implemented. Recently, the Health Ministry gathered the project’s advisory group to evaluate it and discuss project management and contingencies.

At the meeting, it was brought up that some hospitals were found to have violated the rule against prescribing commonly abused drugs via telemedicine. In response, the ministry is keen to mete out sanctions for future violations, such as reducing claims and issuing refunds. 

Meanwhile, it was also raised that the present criteria for accepting patients were restrictive: access to telemedicine is allowed for patients with chronic diseases who have done their first in-person visits within a year and for non-chronic disease patients who have done their first in-person visits within 30 days. 

Following this feedback, the MOHW will be reviewing and updating its guidelines. It plans to expand access to telemedicine for patients living in areas where there are less or no hospitals. 

Additionally, it was shared at the meeting that there is a need to introduce a measure to prevent indiscriminate prescription via telemedicine; further specify which drugs are prohibited from being prescribed via telemedicine; and spread publicity materials on the use of telemedicine.

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